Hannah Ellis-Petersen South Asia correspondent

Hindu rightwing conspiracy theory prompts crackdown on interfaith marriages in Uttar Pradesh

Police in India have rounded up Muslim men and disrupted interfaith marriage ceremonies under new laws prohibiting so-called “love jihad”.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, police have begun cracking down on marriages between Muslims and Hindus and have arrested at least 10 Muslim men under a law that prohibits forced religious conversions.

“Love jihad” is a Hindu rightwing conspiracy theory claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriage in order to force their conversion to Islam. Though the central government admitted in February it had no official records of any incidents of the practice, the theory has gained so much traction in India under the right wing ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that it has been used to justify legislation enacted in Uttar Pradesh. It is now proposed in four other BJP-controlled Indian states.

This week a marriage between two Muslims was stopped by police in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, after a tipoff by a Hindu rightwing group. The police stormed the ceremony and arrested Haider Ali, 39, who was kept in custody overnight and alleged that the police tortured him for hours using a leather belt. It was only after the family produced evidence that his bride was Muslim by birth that they released Ali.

The Uttar Pradesh crackdown has fuelled fears that the “love jihad” law is being used to target Muslims and outlaw consensual interfaith marriage in Uttar Pradesh. No Hindus have been arrested under the new law.

A day after the law was enacted in early December, police in the city of Lucknow violently halted a wedding ceremony between a Hindu woman, Raina Gupta, and a Muslim man, Mohammad Asif, that was to include both Hindu and Muslim rituals. The families, who supported the union, said neither was going to convert religion, but the wedding was still prevented from going ahead.

In another case, a Muslim man, Owais Ahmad, was arrested last week and sentenced to 14 days judicial custody for allegedly trying to pressure a Hindu woman into converting to Islam and eloping in 2019, following a case filed by her father. The woman is now married to a Hindu man, and Ahmad said he had “no link with the woman”.

A 27-year-old Muslim man, Rashid, and his brother were arrested last week in Moradabad. They had been attempting to register Rashid’s marriage to a 22-year-old Hindu woman, Muskan Jahan, who had converted to Islam prior to the wedding. As the trio visited a lawyer, they were surrounded by members of a rightwing Hindu group, Bajrang Dal, who accosted them and brought them to the police station.

Rashid remains in jail in Uttar Pradesh on charges of forcible conversion of his wife, while Jahan was taken to a shelter by the police. Addressing the Bajrang Dal members as they surrounded her, Jahan denied any coercion. “I am an adult, I am 22 years old. I got married of my own free will,” she said.

  • This article was amended on 14 December. An earlier version mistakenly referred to the Hindu woman in the Owais Ahmad case as Muslim.

This story first appeared on theguardian.com .